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Exhibition examines the role of gardens in the paintings of Monet and his contemporaries
Joaquin Sorolla, Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1911. Oil on canvas, 150 x 225.5 cm. On loan from the Hispanic Society of America, New York, NY. Photo (c) Courtesy of The Hispanic Society of America, New York.
LONDON.- The Royal Academy of Arts presents Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, a major exhibition examining the role of gardens in the paintings of Claude Monet and his contemporaries. With Monet as the starting point, the exhibition spans the early 1860s to the 1920s, a period of tremendous social change and innovation in the arts, and includes Impressionist, PostImpressionist and Avant-Garde artists of the early twentieth century. It brings together over 120 works, from public institutions and private collections across Europe and the USA, including 35 paintings by Monet alongside rarely seen masterpieces by Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Gustav Klimt and Wassily Kandinsky.

Arguably the most important painter of gardens in the history of art, Monet was also an avid horticulturist who cultivated gardens wherever he lived. As early as the 1860s, a symbiotic relationship developed between his activities as a horticulturist and his paintings of gardens, a relationship that can be traced from his early years in Sainte-Adresse to his final months at Giverny. ‘I perhaps owe it to flowers’, he wrote, ‘that I became a painter’. A rich selection of documentary materials including horticultural books and journals, as well as receipts for purchases of plants and excerpts from letters, is included in the exhibition.

Highlights of the exhibition include a magnificent selection of Monet’s water lily paintings including the great Agapanthus Triptych of 1916 - 1919, (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland; Saint Louis Art Museum, St Louis) works that are closely related to the great panorama that he donated to the French State in 1922 and that are now permanently housed in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. It is the first time this monumental triptych has been seen in the UK. This exhibition is among the first to consider Monet’s Grandes Décorations as a response to the traumatic events of World War I, and the first to juxtapose the large Water Lilies with garden paintings by other artists reacting to this period of suffering and loss.

Other highlights include Monet’s Lady in the Garden, 1867 (The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg); Auguste Renoir’s Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford); Monet’s Le bassin aux nymphéas, harmonie verte, 1899 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris); Monet’s Le jardin de l'artiste à Giverny, 1900 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris); Monet’s Water Lilies, 1904 (Musée Malraux, Le Havre); Wassily Kandinsky’s Murnau The Garden II, 1910 (Merzbacher Kunststiftung) and Pierre Bonnard’s Resting in the Garden, 1914 (The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo). Works by artists such as Edouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, James-Jacques Tissot, John Singer Sargent, Joaquín Sorolla, Max Liebermann, Santiago Rusiňol, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, Emil Nolde and Edouard Vuillard will also feature.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Symbolists, Fauves, and German Expressionists embraced more subjective approaches by imagining gardens as visionary utopias; many turned to painting gardens to explore abstract colour theory and decorative design. In the early twentieth century, Monet emerges as a vanguard artist. The monumental canvases of his garden at Giverny anticipate major artistic movements that were to come such as American Abstract Expressionism.

The exhibition has been arranged thematically, leading visitors through the evolution of the garden theme, from Impressionist visions of light and atmosphere to retreats for reverie and dreams, sites for bold experimentation, sanctuaries of refuge and healing, and, ultimately, signifiers of a world restored to order – a paradise regained. Framing the paintings in the context of broad artistic movements, as well as social and political events, offers unprecedented paths for understanding the garden as a multifaceted, universal theme in modern art.

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January 31, 2016

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